Ireland: Orchestral works - Wilson
Chandos CHSA 5293
Classical - Orchestral
Ireland: The Forgotten Rite, Mai-Dun, A Downland Suite, Epic March, A London Overture, Satyricon, The Holy Boy
Sinfonia of London
John Wilson (conductor)
John Ireland was something of a child prodigy, entering the Royal College of Music at the age of fourteen. There he studied piano, organ and composition (under Charles Villiers Stanford). He quickly progressed to significant positions as an organist, whilst continuing to pursue his interests as a composer. The Forgotten Rite, from 1913, is one of his earliest orchestral compositions, and was premièred by Sir Henry Wood at the Queen’s Hall. The symphonic rhapsody Mai-Dun was inspired by the Dorset countryside – Thomas Hardy Country – a landscape that exerted a lifelong influence on Ireland. While it was commissioned for the national Brass Band Championships in 1932, Ireland later arranged the central two movements of A Downland Suite for strings. The first and last movements were later arranged by his pupil Geoffrey Bush. The overture Satyricon was one of Ireland’s final large-scale works, and is based upon texts by the Roman writer Gaius (or, in some sources, Titus) Petronius Arbiter, a courtier of Nero. A London Overture and the Epic March were both commissioned by the BBC – the latter as a morale-booster during World War II. It was during this period that Ireland orchestrated The Holy Boy – a piano piece composed on Christmas Day in 1913.
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Review by Graham Williams - July 9, 2022
Very few, if any, record companies have been more assiduous in promoting British music than Chandos and this is especially true in the case of John Ireland (1879-1962). Both Richard Hickox and Bryden Thomson recorded a considerable quantity of Ireland’s music for the label some years ago and it is gratifying to note that John Wilson and his Sinfonia of London have now followed up their previous recording of ‘English music for Strings’ with one devoted entirely to the orchestral works of this composer.
Wilson has already shown himself to be an enthusiastic advocate of Ireland’s music – he recorded an almost identical programme with the Hallé Orchestra in 2007 – but with the benefits of multi-channel SACD and the usual superb Chandos engineering this new release will be a first choice for many collectors, though in performance terms Adrian Boult’s marvellous Ireland survey from the 1960s should not be ignored.
The seven works recorded here span Ireland’s career between 1913 and 1946 but (unlike the excellent liner notes by Andrew Burn) are not presented chronologically in order to provide a programme with variation in pace, mood and texture.
Wilson’s accounts of two of the composer’s most imaginative and haunting works, the Symphonic Rhapsody ‘Mai-Dun’ and ‘The Forgotten Rite’, are thrillingly delivered, thanks to the precision and polish of the Sinfonia of London, though it must be said that Hickox’s more leisurely account of the latter is marginally better at evoking the ‘mystical aspects’ and ‘occult forces of nature’ referenced in the programme notes for the work’s first performance. Both The ‘Dowland Suite’, originally written for brass band, and ‘The Holy Boy’ – the third of Ireland’s ‘Four Preludes’ for piano – are given here in transcriptions for string orchestra in poised performances that perfectly illustrate the imaginative and expressive range of the Sinfonia’s splendid string section.
The remaining large scale works – the witty ‘Satyricon’ Overture (1946), the ‘London Overture’ (1936), are crisply and incisively played while the Waltonesque ‘Epic March’ of 1941 has impressive swagger and is capped with a weighty organ at its conclusion. All are delivered in the exuberant manner we have come to expect from Wilson and his orchestra.
The sound is clear and luminous, thanks to the acoustic of the orchestra’s chosen recording venue (the Church of St. Augustine, Kilburn, London), and has a wide but detailed sound stage.
In all respects this is a most welcome addition to the catalogue and makes one eager for the next release from this winning combination of outstanding musicians.
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